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OPSEU sounds note of caution on Basic Income plan


Toronto – The Ontario government’s plan for a Basic Income (BI) program has noble goals, but could turn into “a scheme to demolish public services, and leave Ontarians worse off,” the President of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union says.

Warren (Smokey) Thomas made the comment after reviewing former Conservative Senator Hugh Segal’s recommendations for a Basic Income pilot project. Segal proposes a “modestly more generous” basic income to replace Ontario Works (OW) and Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) in three Ontario communities. Anyone between the ages of 18-65, whether they are already on social assistance or not, would be eligible.

Supporters claim BI could boost workforce participation, reduce poverty, and cut government spending on services such as health care. They also believe it could reduce the stigma associated with accessing social assistance, since BI will be unconditional.

But the idea of a Basic Income, sometimes called a guaranteed annual income, may not be a progressive one, OPSEU’s Thomas said.  

“Basic Income has had the support of right-wingers for decades now because of the expectation that it would reduce the government’s role in providing services, and shift that work on to families and communities,” he said. “Given the direction the current Ontario government is taking on social services, I think Ontarians have every reason to be skeptical.”

Privatization of public services and assets is the “core policy” of the Kathleen Wynne government, Thomas continued.

“We support the goals of raising incomes for people living in poverty. We support extra counselling. We support reducing the stigma associated with social assistance. But we aren’t convinced Basic Income will do these things. If anything, it may make people a little less poor, for a little while, until public services end up on the chopping block. I’m worried that this Basic Income is just part of the Liberals’ larger plan to further privatize the province.

“We don’t need to study poverty any more,” he said. “It would make more sense to raise the minimum wage, increase OW and ODSP rates, and stop the attack on public services.”

For more information: Warren (Smokey) Thomas, 613-329-1931